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The Fight to Keep Democracy Alive News/Business. (2013) Dan Cantor, New York Working Families Party; Jonathan Soros, Friends of Democracy super PAC; the power of poetry with Martin Espada. (CC) (Stereo)

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New York 23, New York City 9, Us 6, George Amedore 5, Goldman Sachs 4, MartÍn Espada 4, Jonathan 3, Charlie Bass 3, Harlem 3, Audre Rapoport 2, Polly Guth 2, Dan 2, John D. 2, Dan Cantor 2, Anne Gumowitz 2, Kohlberg Foundation 2, United 2, Obama 2, Invesco 2, Amgen 2,
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  PBS    Moyers Company    The Fight to Keep Democracy Alive  News/Business.  (2013)  
   Dan Cantor, New York Working Families Party; Jonathan Soros,...  

    February 18, 2013
    9:00 - 10:00pm PST  

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this week on "moyers & company" -- >> money will find a way into politics. >> money doesn't talk, it swears. so we're trying to turn down the ability of money to control things. >> for our democracy we cannot rely on disagreements among rich people. >> and -- >> there's something about poetry that saves me. there's something about poetry that energizes me, that brings me to another plane. res all the hormones, i don't know what. something intangible and yet tangible at the same time. >> announcer: funding is provided by -- carnegie corporation of new york, celebrating 100 years of philanthropy, and committed to doing real and permanent good in the world. the kohlberg foundation. independent production fund, with support from the partridge foundation, a john and polly guth charitable fund.
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the clements foundation. park foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. the herb alpert foundation, supporng organizations whose mission is to promote compassion and creativity in our society. the bernard and audre rapoport foundation. the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. more information at macfound.org. anne gumowitz. the betsy and jesse fink foundation. the hkh foundation. barbara g. fleischman. and by our sole corporate sponsor, mutual of america, designing customized individual and group retirement products. that's why we're your retirement company. welcome. at the state of the union speech, there's always more than meets the eye. just out of sight is the reality of how we are governed.
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the house of representatives, where congress gathers to hear the president, used to be known as "the people's house." but money power owns the lease now and runs the joint from hidden back rooms. you're looking at the most expensive congress money can buy. the house races last fl cost over billin. it took more than $700 million to elect just a third of the senate. the two presidential candidates raised more than a billion a piece. the website politico added it all up to find that the total number of dollars spent on the 2012 election exceeded the number of people on this planet -- some seven billion. most of it didn't come from the average joe and jane. 60% of all super pac donations came from just 159 people. andhe top 32 super pac donors gave an average of $9.9 million dollars. think how many teachers that much money could hire. we'll never actually know where
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all of the money comes from. one-third of the billion dollars from outside groups was "dark money," secret funds anonymously funneled through fictional "social welfare" organizations. those are front groups, created to launder the money inside the deep pockets. and don't let anyone ever tell you the money didn't make a difference. more than 80% of house candidates and 2/ofenate candidates who outspent their general election opponents won, and were present and counted as the new congress prepared to hear the president. remember, money doesn't necessarily corrupt legislators, but it certainly tilts them. >> members of congress, i have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the president of the united states. >> so let's share some snapshots from the state of the union. that's speaker of the house john boehner, of course. he's led his party to protect ll street from oversight and ccountability. the finance, insurance, and real
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estate industries gave him more than $3 million last year. eric cantor is the republican majority leader in the house. among his biggest donors, goldman sachs, masterminds of the mortgage-backed securities that almost sank the world economy. cantor's also the third largest recipient of money from the national rifle association in the house, which is one reason he's such a "big gun" there. senator robert menendez, democrat of new jersey, may be in hot water. 's currently under investigation for allegations that he improperly intervened with government agencies on behalf of a big donor. and there's fred upton, republican from michigan, chairman of the house energy and commerce committee. what a coincidence. the oil and gas industry is one of his top donors, helping him raise the $4 million dollars he spent last year to win re-election. senator kirsten gillibrand and senator chuck schumer, democrats of new york, have wall street as
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a constituent and patron. her biggest contributors include jpmorgan chase, morgan stanley, goldman sachs, and law firms that have advised them. his top donors include securities and investment firms, lawyers and legal firms, and lobbyists. and there are fleeting glances of some familiar faces here tonight seen recently on our broadcast. senator mitch mcconnell of kentucky, the republican leader in the senate, republican orrin hatch of utah, and democratic senator max baucus of montana. all cited by "the new york times" as suspects in that mysterious miatioof half a billion dollars from taxpayers over to the bottom line of drug companies, especially the pharmaceutical giant amgen. would it surprise you to learn that over the past five years, amgen has been one of the top ten donors to mcconnell, baucus, and hatch? as for our president -- by attending a fundraiser on the average of every 60 hours during
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his bid for a second term, he once again broke the record for bringing home the bacon. although the money power that controls congress could thwart everhingbamaroposed in his state of the union address, there was not a single word in that speech about taming the power of private money over public policy. and so it goes. the golden rule of politics. he who has the gold, rules. can we do anything about it? my two guests think we can. they say that if anybody should own the politicians, we the people should. dan cantor is a former community and union organizer who's executive director of the working families party. that's a third party that began in new york state and has now spread to five others. since its launch 15 years ago, he's helped lead the party's efforts to elect progressive candidates throughout the state and worked to increase new york's minimum wage and raise taxes on the rich. jonathan soros is one of those
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who would pay more. he's a lawyer, investor, and philanthropist working on economic change and social goods. a senior fellow at the roosevelt institute exploring the role of corporations in society, and co-founder of the super pac friends of democracy, which aims to counter the influence of monein pitics. an irony we'll discuss later. dan and jonathan are on the front lines of the fight to make new york state a national model for the public financing of political campaigns. welcome to you both. >> thank you so much. >> glad to be here. >> what an odd couple you are. jonathan, you're a lawyer, a man of means, you're active in finance, among other things. daniel, you are a street fighter who cut your teeth organizing labor. in fact, "new york magazine" once called you the very model of a grassroots political boss.
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what is, briefly, the working families party? >> so working families is a political party organized under the laws of new york more or less in an alliance with the democrats. we try to yank the democrats in what we think to be a sensible, humane, progressive direction. we get about 5% of the vote state waid, but in some target races we can get as much as 15%, 20%, 22%. >> who funds you? >> so it's a variety of individual donors. we raise, we do lot of door-knocking. that's about 25% of our donations. unions, individuals, you know, we scuffle, we do fundraising events. it's not a high donor operation, but we try to keep, you know, keep the doors open. >> so jonathan, what drew you to this rabble rouser? >> well, dan and i first worked together probably about a decade ago as we were taking on the question of rockefeller drug laws in new york state. and then he came back to me, you know, a little over a year ago. dan's been working as part of a terrific coalition of groups, the new york fair elections coalition, that have been promoting campaign finance reform for a number of years in new york state. he knew that i had a lot of interest in this issue for a long time. and so we -- >> atwhere es, ere'd that interest come from? >> my first real job out of
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college, i ended up spending almost two months in moldova, the republic of moldova, working with a usaid-funded foundation dealing with their first ever parliamentary elections. i was there on the ground for two months. that was my first taste of really how rules matter in the way that elections are conducted and how sometimes the unwritten rules matter, too -- >> the unwritten rules? such as? >> well, so there were, there ren't great rules about ampan finae molva. u know, their first ever elections, there was, you know, a lot of use of state funds in electioneering. folks who were sitting in the parliament were, an existing parliament were running around in state cars doing their campaigning. >> this has been a communist governed country? >> communist governed country. and then i had a great, i had a great teacher in law school, lani guinier, who really opened my eyes to a number of issues related to democratic process. and it's been a set of issues that i've cared about ever since. >> what are you after in new
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york state? >> so we're after a comprehensive stem of campaign finance reform. i got involved in this really actively after citizens united on the belief that there is still despite the supreme court's rulings that there is a suite of reforms that would be transformative in the way that money flows in and around politics. and that's now on the table in new york state. it starts with disclosure obviously. but it really focuses around what we're calling citizen funding, a form of public financing that allows candidates the opportunity, gives them the option to run for public office wihout dependence on lge contbutis and independent expenditures. that's really what we're, what we're seeking to achieve. >> i mean, i think his point about rules is really worth underlining, right. better rules produce better outcomes whether it's in elections or for that matter in the finance industry. there's economic inequality, you've talked a lot about that on this show over the years. but there's also political inequality.
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and this effort is an attempt to deal with at least that second one a little bit. but if you deal with political inequality, we have a system that should be one person, one vote, not one dollar, one vote, yoll affect other things beses t ectio themselves. the -- we have a non-virtuous system right now in which wealth gets power, uses the power to increase its wealth. you know, justice brandeis' famous comment about how you can have a great concentrations of wealth or you can have a democracy, but you can't have both. so we're at a moment in this society it seems to us which we have to make a decision. and we need to create a system that voters themselves will have more kf in because right now when you knock on oors, people are, they're pretty cynical that things can change. >> isn't the governor of new york, governor cuomo, on your side? listen to what he said in his state of the state speech in january. >> we must enact campaign finance reform because people believe that campaigns are financed by someone else at
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exorbitant rates -- implement a public finance system based on new york city. it works well in new york city. it will work well in new york state. >> do you think he's serious? >> i do think he's serious. >> how will he prove he's serious? >> well, he'll prove his seriousnessy getting this bill paed in the ming legislature. i think we can have confidence that the governor will be able to pass something that is called campaign finance reform in this state. the real test and measure is going to be whether it includes this citizen funding. >> how would public funding work? >> well, it can work a lot of different ways. for obvious reasons it's most useful to point to new york city when you're in new york state. here we have a system in the city if you're running for citywide office or for city council, any contribution up to, you qualify to get into the systemyou ect to be in the system, it's voluntary. then any contribution up to $175 is matched six to one -- >> by the public? >> by the public. out of a pool from the general
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fund from the budget. and that has had a dramatic transformative effect in the way that funds are raised. >> how so? >> first of all, the level of small donation, the campaign finance institute and the brennan center have done some great research and produced some beautiful maps showing the difference in the two systems. if you look at a map of state assembly races in new york city and how many small contributions there are for those races, there are almost none throughout the entire city. look at the same map of new york city for city council races, it's covered. there are small contributions coming from every neighborhood, even the poorest neighborhoods in the city. people who are running for office are reaching out to their constituents, ordinary citizens, they're having house parties in people's living rooms, not large, you know, large check fund-raisers. and the statistics are that the people who participate in the syst gethe mority of the funding from small contributors
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and only a small minority of what are still large contributions of, you know, $1,000 and up. >> this is a gigantic change. i mean, people should appreciate who gets to run for office when you have a system like this. librarians run for office, ex-teachers run for office. it's not just people who have a rolodex of prospective donors who get to run for office. and it's good for the candidates and the voters alike. there's a lot of middle class and working class people who can put that $10 and $20 and $50 together. that's worth $70 or $140 or 350 to the candite. so it makes a house party with 30 people at which you raise $1,000, which takes a couple of hours, it's worth $7,000. that's a real thing that the candidate can then use because we actually need money to run campaigns. they have to have mailers and staff and so on. >> so if i were to run for the city council or some other office in new york city and i announce that i'm going to enter this system and i get you to give me how much? >> $40.
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>> and if you give me $40, what happen >> then the cy fu gives you $240 on top of that. so that's a $280 contribution. that's a big contribution. and it means to me as a voter i have a little skin in the game and i'm going to pay attention to you. so it totally changes kind of the relationship between the candidate and the donor, that a lot of small donors -- and also we, you know, we favor people putting a little money in. we don't, if you can't go out, if you're running for office and you can't find 300 or 400 people to give you $20, you have no business running for office. so we're not looking for, it's a little bit of private money and then some public money. but then you don't have to just spend your time as an elected official should you win, in the unlikely event that you win, you then don't have to spend your time mostly worrying about how to get those $2,000 and $3,000 checks. >> but public funding did not stop mike bloomberg from spending a small fortune. >> a large fortune. >> a large fortune on his three elections. >> that's true. but it did allow his opponent to run a credible campaign. and the election was pretty darn close. >> using public funding --
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>> using public funding. so if you look across the country, there's all sorts of evidence of people who spent a lot of money in campaigns, who spent more money tn their opponts a lst bause having mormoney and ving a lot of money doesn't make you a better candidate. what matters is having a threshold, an amount of money that's sufficient to run a credible campaign. and that's what citizen funding allows you to do. it allows you to get that amount of money that lets you run a credible campaign, be a good candidate connecting with your voters and do it in a way that's focusing your attention on ordinary citizens. >> but how does it undo the power of big money? >> well, so mayor bloomberg's an outlier. there aren't so many candidates like that. listen, we're never going to keep private money out of politics. that's the wrong ambition. the goal is to -- >> you're notaying we should? >> we shouldn't and we can't -- >> yeah, that's right. but citizens united makes it impossible. >> they have opened the gates wide. and it was even before citizens united as you're well aware the gates were open pretty wide. so the ambition isn't to keep private money out. it's to get enough public money
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in so that even when you have somebody who is not part of the system spending a lot, the other person gets to a threshold that makes it reasonable, right? you don't, at some point the extra money isn't that valuable. you just have to get to be competitive. and that's what we have found in the states and cities where you havpublic -- >>f i could just add to at. i ean, it really is about reducing the influence of that money. and that takes -- >> of the big money? >> of the big money. so that takes two pieces. one is create an alternative for candidates to run without reliance on the big money. the second is we need to have some genuine rules about what independent means. so when we talk about the super pacs, now, it's widely misunderstood, super pacs are actually fully disclosed. we know where the money comes when it comes through a super pac. as you were pointing out in your opening, there's money that flows into the super pacs that ist disclosed. so that has to t dealt with. but those super pacs were a far as, right? you have candidates endorsing them, you have candidates
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showing up at fundraisers and then leaving before the, you know, before the money is asked for. you have campaign staff, former campaign staff running them. we have no effective rules. this is all legal under what is considered coordination by the federal elections committee -- >> yeah, we say a super pac is okay if it's independent of the campaign. but in practice -- >> but -- >> and in reality, in the real world -- >> but in practice it's not. >> it's not independent. >> right. and so that would reduce the influence and the appeal of those vehicles if they really were independent. we'vhad dependent expenditure in campaigns really forever. but even dating back to the last big wave of campaign finance reform and the one before that, under the buckley-valeo decision in 1976 the supreme court said independent expenditures are okay. and those have been there for a long time. now, we've crossed a different kind of threshold after citizens united both by allowing now corporate enterprise to get into the game, but also i think more importantly than the legal change which actually wasn't as big as people make out, but it's
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a normative change. it's become an acceptable form of political engagement to be involved in a super pac and dump large amounts of money independently into, or supposedly independently into campaigns. so we need to do both things. we need to actually have this separation so that candidates are at least arm's length from the outside groups. and we need to create an alternative for it. >> i was involved in public funding in the early days 20 years ago and so was the schumann foundation which i headed then. and the common argument we ran into everhere was, "i, the voter, the taxpayer, doesn't want to fund the politician's ambitions." >> sure, welfare for politicians. i don't want my tax dollars going to politicians. listen, here's a good, smart thing they say. we have real problems in our state, we need money for schools. we shouldn't spend even a modest amount of money on this election system of ours. and our view is that's, you know, penny wise and pound foolish because if we don't do this, then people feed at the trough, the verizons, the
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goldman sachs, other forces are able to get public money in a way that would not be possible because we'll end up with people in office who are not beholden to them. and what will happen when we have a clean election system is that it will become a negative for candidates who don't participate over time. in the beginning there'll be people in the system, some will be out of the system, that's okay. but we think we can create a kind of a norm in which people, it becomes a benefit to be part of a fair elections, a clean elections system. >> i think what we're seeing, what we see consistently in polling is that voters are so disgusted with what they see in their politics that they're willing to consider an altnati and they' wilng to payhe costs of funding their elections a different way. >> is the new york model, the new york city model working? do you think it's working effectively? >> well, it's completely changing the way that candidates run for election. it's opened up the opportunity for different sorts of folks to run for election. and it means that those who are running and succeeding in the system are getting their --
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are getting funded in their campaigns from small -- principally from small contributors rather than big contributors. i think that means that you have the opportunity to have a degree of trust in your government in new york city that you don't ha elsewhere in the couny. >> i think it's beeprofndly successful, right. there are always some problems with thiges and no system -- this is not some, you know, magic feather that is going to make democracy work, in all, you know, we still need good candidates with good ideas. you need organizations keeping them honest. but if you can reduce this particular problem which you led off with, the enormous power
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that private money has you'll get better outcomes. better rules, you get better outcomes. so there's, yes, it's working i think. >> there was a local race here in new york for a state senate seat. it got a lot of attention. your candidate supported by your super pac and by your working families party was cecilia tkaczyk, right? she won by 18 votes with one recount after another. and many people are saying that this is a turning point in the fight to clean up state politics. tell me about that >> wel for starters she's now pottial the2nd te ithe ateenate in favor of reform, 32 being a majority. but more importantly this election was basically a referendum on her support for citizen funding as a part of campaign finance reform. >> she was for it and her opponent was against it? >> exactly right. and it became the central issue over the last several weeks. dan actually called this an organizer's dream. this issue became central and she won, as you said, by 18 votes after a long recount. >> beating a millionaire incumbent? >> a millionaire assemblyman who was running up the food chain trying to take a senate seat. >> and you think she won because she came out for the public finance? >> absolutely, it animated -- >> she thinks she won because she ran on this issue. >> we have the ad that you supported, let's take a look. >> oh, gat. >> in t senate george amedore means more pay-to-play corruption in albany. amedore took tens of thousands
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of dollars from corporations and wealthy donors and opposed a tax increase on the rich. he voted against loans for small businesses, and even opposed raising the minimum wage. and cecilia tkaczyk? tkaczyk's a farmer, a school board member, and a mom. she'll fight for middle class families and end pay to play politics in albany by supporting fair elections that put us ahead of the special interests. cecelia tkaczyk for senate. >> her opponent was george amedore. he was a sitting assemblyman from, you know, from an adjacent, conjoined district. he then put out a halfhearted response and said he was for campaign finance reform but only about disclosure. and he did that, and then he attacked her on her support for citizen funding. that's one of the reasons it became the central issue. >> her name is cecilia but goes by cece, cece tkaczyk. so amedore starts calling it the cece tax, she wants to have a tax named after herself that's going to cost everybody in the district money to pay for elections, to give money to politicians. that's sort of your worst nightmare when you're running a campaign. i've got a new tax named after
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me. she was forthright. she said this is going to make our system better. voters responded. >> jonathan's super pac supported it financially, but you put boots on the ground, didn't you? >> sure, they were an army of door-knockers and phone bankers and lunteers going door to door identifying voters and then turning them out on election day. this was just days after hurricane sandy. roads were washed out. we had to have, you know, caravans trying to get people to the polls. people stationed at bridges that habeenashed out rsuading them to go out of their way to vote which i think produced that last 19 votes we needed. so i'll be ever grateful to the woman who did that. you don't know what's going to win in elections, so you do everything. you have to have the so-called air war, television, the ground game, what working families and our allies did. you put it all together and sometimes when you have a good candidate who's willing to be forthright and then you have an opponent who decides, "ah, i'm going to kill her with this," it makes, it's a perfect storm. >> and here's her opponent's ad --
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>> shadowy new york city money groups calling themselves campan finance reformers spending hundreds of thousands on neck tiff attacks. rewarding their candidates like cece tkaczyk who pushed their agenda. taxpayer-funded campaigns which could cost us over $200 million per election. george amedore knows we already pay enough. he's worked to cut middle class taxes to the lowest in decades, cap property taxes for families and seniors, and cut wasteful state spending. george amedore -- standing up for us. >> that shadowy new york money, that's you. >> i think that's me, although i don't know which shadows i'm in, i mean, we're fully disclosed in public about what we were doing >> but he's the iry th i mentioned earlier. you started a super pac last spring, friends of democracy, because you don't like super pacs, right? you want to get rid of super pacs? >> we were the first to recognize the irony, and we've got a lot of fun out of it.
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we are the super pac that is, that has a mission of reducing the influence of money in politics. >> who funds your super pac? >> so i funded part of it. and then we raised about half of the money from other sources. >> isn't it a little weird? you start a super pac to defeat super pacs? aren't you escalating -- aren't you proving in effect that it takes a super pac to win and, therefore, you're escalating the arms race? >> so again, it's a serious question and i think there are a couple of different points to make about it. so the first is our objective is not to force the private money out of politics. as dan mentioned earlier, you can't as a constitutional matter and as a practical matter you can't. even if the constitutional regime changed, money will find a way in to politics. it really ishe focus is out reducing thenfluence of mone d agn at com from firs separating the money from candidates so that if you're going to have independent expenditure, it is truly independent, real rules around complete disclosure so that the dark money that you referenced
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in your opening isn't dark anymore, it sees the light of day. real and functional enforcement, the federal election commission is designed for inaction and incapacity. it is by mandate three republicans and three democrats, and they require a majority to do anything, to either make a rule or do enforcement. so that means they n do the little things, but anything that has real meaning, and then obviously the thing we've been talking about, citizen funding. the other thing i make about, related to our irony, we weren't outspending anybody, right. we spent in the aggregate about $2.5 million across eight congressional races and this race in new york state. these are races in some cases $12 million, $10 million or $12 million were being spent when you include all the inside and outside money, so we weren't outspending anybody. what we we dog was we were lifting up anssue that was otherwise, that differentiated the candidates that otherwise was going to be ignored, creating the opportunity for that to then be engaged in the actual debate between the two candidates.
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and what we saw was that when that issue gets debated and engaged, the candidate who is supporting reform and particularly supporting citizen funded elections tends to win. but in the aggregate george amedore and his allies outspent everybody else on the other side. he had more money to spend in that election, and he still lost. >> ich oveshe earlier point it's not about, you don't have to match the other side dollar for dollar. you have to have enough to be credible. and that's why you want to have a citizen funding system with this private/public match at some multiple that gives people who would never ever think about running for office a way into the game. you get people who come out of a history of service and commitment to a community group, to a union, to some kind of consumer organization. and they say to themselves and we say to them, "you should consider running for office." and it would never be possible and you see the light going on saying, "ybe i am. i know 400 people.
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i've been working in this community for 15 years." so that's what becomes possible under this kind of system. >> your super pac didn't just support this senate race in new york. you supported how many congressional races around the country? >> we were heavily involved in eight congressional races around the country. >> and your candidates won how many of them? >> seven out of eight. >> there was, well, you ran an ad against charlie bass, the republican in new hampshire last fall. let's take a look at that ad. >> another sell-out crowd at the ballpark today. three and two -- >> those seats are taken. >> do you feel frozen out like this when it comes to congress? o wonder. rporate lobbyisthaveour congressmen's full attention. >> sorry, those seats are paid for, too. >> your congressman charlie bass took over $166,000 from big oil and voted to give them billions in taxpayer subsidies. if we don't vote against charlie bass, middle class families will never get in the game. >> those seats are taken! >> friends of democracy is responsible for the contents of this advertising. >> that is the message that we're trying to send. now, our view is that there is a suite of reforms that are, that
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can be comprehensive and really meaningful and that a sitting politician inot going o elect -- is not going to enact those reforms unless they believe it, unless they believe that they're election depends on it. so we're trying to send a message that being on the wrong side of the reform in a close election can cost you your election. >> now, public financing has actually happened in several states. maine enacted it some years ago for state races. massachusetts enacted it by a 60% to 65% vote of the public. but then the democratic legislature refused to fund it and eventually killed it. arizona has it and -- >> connecticut. >>t's been, yeah, and connecticut has it, but it's been involved in one court case after another in arizona. do you think ultimately if it gets to the supreme court, the citizens united court would uphold it? >> the supreme court has so far not had a problem with citizen funding as a concept. what they threw out in the arizona case, unfortunately, was
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the idea that they could trigger additional funds, so if you're in the system and either a self-funding candidate or an independent group was spending a lot of money against you, you would get more money than you wld otherwise. and they decided thathat somehow is chilling the speech of the independent person. and so they prohibited it. it makes it harder. it means we have to design a different -- we have to think about different ways to design a citizen-funded system to make it more robust and be able to respond when there is large independent money being spent on the outside. but there is no problem with the constitutionality of a citizen funded system whatsoever. >> has it been tested? >> it's been tested. it's been tested in that, you know -- >> it's voluntary, so you're not requiring people to jump in. but if they jump in, they have to abide by certain limits and rules and it seems to be pretty successful where it's been -- >> it's been tested dating back to the public financing system that existed for the, and still exists technically for the presidential races. >> do you think this could ever become a player in the national
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field? >> i think that what happens here in new york is extremely important for exactly that reason. i mean, first, as dan said earlier, this will be the first significant response to citizens united, the first forward step since that massive step backwards. so that in itlf sets a great example. but nework is an example for the nation in many ways. the governor, it's been speculated, has some ambitions for 2016. this would truly differentiate him in an otherwise leaderless field around this issue. he'll be bringing this if he succeeds, trumpeting it in the primaries in 2016 as an accomplishment and challenging the other candidates to take similar stands. and it sets an example for other states then to enact similar reforms and eventually for the federal government. >> you said recently that money only matters up to a point. how so? >> well, consider the presidential election. you mentioned north of $1 billion spent on each side.
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would barack obama have won re-election if he had $100 million less? if he had $200 million less? probably. there's some amount of money that it was going to require him to run a robust, credible campaign for president. and beyond that, to use the economic term, the diminishal marginal returns of additional money is extraordinary. that after a point the spend something just going to the wind. >> were you disappointed that in his state of the union speech there was no reference to citizens united, no reference to public funding, no reference to campaign finance reform? and i know that polls show that when people say those words, campaign finance reform, eyes glaze over. but he was silent on this subject at a critical moment. >> listen, the reason we have to focus on doing this at the state level is the system is blocked in washington to any meaningful evident -- effort, so that's why we ha to succeed in new york a some other states and that
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will open things up. i think the president has decided that this is not, this dog is not going hunt. >> i was disappointed that it wasn't in his speech but not surprised. you know, the, and the president has decided instead to focus on other incredibly important issues regarding failures in our democracy and the way that people vote. and that's important as well. but the president has missed a number of opportunities to show leadership on this issue. and i think that's been both unfortunate and a bad choice politically for him. i'd say the biggest obstacle that we face is actually just the enormous cynicism that citizens have about their government. they have a hard time believing that there's a way to do this that actually would create a system where their representatives are really working for them. that's a real obstacle. >> and i would add you don't, we don't talk about campaign finance reform. we talk about corruption. that's what this system is, right, and people know it. and the data on this is enormous. when you describe to people the current system and say, "this is an alternative," you get supermajorities in favor of it. so part of this is we have to have a good message. we have to be lentless about promoting it.
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you got to look for opportunities like this senate race, like these congressional races where you can turn an election into a referendum on this unusual but unbelievably important topic, and we'll win more than we lose. elected officials while they're nervous about changing the system under which they have themselves thrived, once in office they like this because a lot of people go into public service for a good reason. they don't want, they don't enjoy going to the lobbyist fundraisers or dialing for dollars any more than a normal human being would. so this is an opportunity for them to get off of that hamster wheel and remind themselves of why they got into this to begin with which ito help solve actually important problems. >> can we really though put the genie back in the bottle when everyone these days is rubbing that bottle? >> the answer is we can't know for sure. there's so much money being spent, and there's so much cynicism about the system. but the evidence shows in the states that do have public
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financing systems, the evidence shows that candidates can run in those systems and win and they do it by focusing on their constituents and small donors. somebody who gives $10 to a campaign, they're more likely to show up and volunteer, they're more likely to show up and vote, they're more likelyo foow what happens. and so having a system where candidates can spend their time engaging with their constituents directly is going to be what -- part of what allows the big nun to have a reduced influence. >> the electoral moment is the moment in our society where people pause for a minute, not for very long but they do pause and we get to answer the question, ask and answer the question, "how are we doing?" our view is we're not doing as well as we should and this is one of the reasons why. bob dylan's famous phrase, "money doesn't talk, it swears." so we're trying to turn down he ability of money to contrl thgs, not getting d oft. but somehow for some reason in this moment it seems to have finally penetrated public consciousness. they know the system is kor runt, and they want to have some confidence, not everybody, but enough people want to have some confidence that we can do better.
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jonathan soros, dan cantor, we'll be watching what happens. thank you very much for this very informative discussion. >> thank you, bill. >> thanks for having us. >> there's a familiar saying in politics that campaigning is poetry and governing is prose. not on this broadcast. here, poetry is poetry, period, and holds a cherished place, which is why we maintain a sort of poet's corner and welcome back to it our friend, martín espada. growing up tough and puerto rican in the city and then in the segregated suburbs of long island, martín espada wove his life's experience into poetry,
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composed even as he studied history and law and worked as an advocate for tenant's rights in boston. now he teaches poetry at the university of massachusetts, amherst and has published 16 books, including his recent collection, "the trouble ball." martín espada welcome back. >> thank you. >> there's a very short poem in the book, four lines long, that i wonder if it's autobiographical. it's the poet's son. >> yes, it's in the book, and, yes, it is. the poet's son watches his father leave for another gig. once again u'rehoosing between dignity and christmas. >> that's it. >> that's it. it's like a sub-haiku. it is autobiographical. it is something my son said to me many years ago. now by son is 21 years old. he's a junior at bennington college. he's 6'7". fortunately, he responds to voice commands. he said this about ten years ago. and neveforgot it, viouy.
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finally chose to write it down. >> you were leaving? >> i was literally walking out the door. >> going? >> to do another reading somewhere on the road. going anywhere and everywhere. it's what i used to call my tour of dying industrial cities. >> well, i -- >> "hello scranton." >> and he was 11-years-old and -- >> yeah. >> but he objected to your leaving. >> he did, he did. i think to a certain extent, this reflects the sacrifices that parents make if they are artists or if they are activists or if they are simply workers. and you have to walk away from your son or your daughter. the last person in the world you should walk away from. and yet you realize at the same time that you must. without the act of walking away, this person's world will be
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impoverished. and yet at the same time, there is no escaping the impoverishment of absee. you're not there. >> yeah, well this is universal. >> yes. >> and i wonder how much it is due to vanity as well. >> yeah, absolutely. the gig calls. well, there's a kind of ethic of the road, you know? you go out there and you do the gig. and it doesn't matter what kind of condition you're in. some of the gigs i've done. you know, i once did two readings at a prison with an abscessed tooth. andfter that the librarian at the prison shede ton or surgeon for emergency surgery. but what was i going to say to the inmates, "i have a toothache"? so their need outweighed my own at that moment. i once did a reading in houston with a collapsed lung. and literally was coughing all night and was in so much pain.
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i remember that i ruptured a muscle from coughing. i had to sleep sitting up. and yet i went, i did the gig. now, i learned something over the years. the gig is not god. the gig is not all. you can on occasion postpone a gig or cancel a gig. >> so with that in mind, read that again. >> the poet's son watches his father leave for another gig. once again you're choosing between dignity and christmas. he was right, of course. >> dignity whereas you're being true to your commment outside. christmas was his notion of where you are with him. >> well, what he perceived, what he captured was that there was some indignity in what i was doing. and indeed, there is.
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you know, life on the road is very undignified in a lot of ways. and anyone who's ever done battle with a continental breakfast knows that. >> yes, tell me about it. >> yeah, you know, that jammed dispenser of raisin bran, or the microwave oven where the door doesn't close all the way, or the broken toaster. i could go on. >> been there, done that. >> yeah. >> read me the playboy calendar. >> ah, yes. this is a poem that's really about me and my father, my father was trying to reach out to me at 17 years old, i was a mystery to him, as i imagine all 17-year-olds are to their fathers. and he was trying everything he could think of to see what would stick. and this is what stuck. the playboy calendar and the rubáiyat of omar khayyá the year i graduated from high school, my father gave me a
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playboy calendar and the rubáiyat of omar khayyám. on the calendar, he wrote, "enjoy the scenery." in the book of poems, he wrote, "i introduce you to an old friend." the beast was my only friend in high school, a wrestler who crushed the coach's nose with his elbow, fraured the fgers of all his teammates, could drink half a dozen vanilla milkshakes, and signed up with the marines because his father was a marine. i showed the playboy calendar to the beast, and he howled like a silverback gorilla trying to impress an expedition of anthropologists. i howled too, smitten with the blonde called miss january, held high in my simian hand. yet, one atight, i morid
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the poet-astronomer of persia, his saints and sages bickering about eternity, his angel looming in the tavern door with a jug of wine, his battered caravanserai of sultans fading into the dark. at 17, the laws of privacy have been revoked by the authorities, and the secret police are everywhere. i learned to hide khayyám and his beard inside the folds of the playboy calendar in case anyone opened the door without knocking, my brother with a baseball mitt or a beery beast. i last saw the beast that summer at the marine base in virginia called quantico. he rubbed his shaven head, and the sunburn made the stitches from the car crash years ago stand out like tiny crosses in the field of his face.
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i last saw the playboy calendar in december of that year, when it could no longer tell me the week or the month. i lastaw or khyám ths morning. "awake!" he said. for morning in the bowl of night has flung the stone that puts the stars to flight. "awake!" he said. and i awoke. >> to whom or to what do you owe that defining choice of omar khayyám over the playboy calendar? because that's the story of your life. >> i certainly owe those who came before me. n particulari owe fher. my father did not have a college education. there were not books of poetry all over the house. but there was this book. it was significant and profound for someone to hand me a book of poetry.
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i was surrounded already by the images in that playboy calendar, and they were not as meaningful to me as the images in the rubáiyat of omar khaám. and so i'm very grateful to my father for giving me that book. >> i really like the poem in here, blessed be the truth tellers. tell me about that and read it for me. >> jack agüeros is a puerto rican poet, fiction writer, playwright, community organizer, translator. he was for many years the director of el museo del barrio, was at the te the only puerto rican museum in the continental united states, in east harlem. and every year jack would organize a three kings' day parade. real camels and sheep marching right through the streets of east harlem.
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talk about visionary. jack was the first writer i ever met. he was a political colleague and ally of my father. and he came to visit us one day in the projects of east new york where i was born and raised. blessed be the truth-tellers for jack üero in the projects of brooklyn, everyone lied. my mother used to say, "if somebody starts a fight, just walk away." then somebody would smack the back of my head and dance around me in a circle, laughing. when i was 12, pus bubbled on my tonsils, and everyone said, "after the operation, you can have all the ice cream you want." i bragged about the deal. no longer would i chase the ice cream truck down the street,
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panting at the bells to catch johnny the ice cream man, who allegedly sold heroin the color of vanilla from the same window. then jack the truth-teller visited the projects, jack who herded real camels and sheep through the snow of east harlem every three kings' day, jack who wrote sonnets of the jail cell and the racetrack and the boxing ring, jack who crossed his arms in a hunger strike until the mayor hired more puerto ricans. and jack said, "you gonna get your tonsils out? ay bendito cuchifrito puerto rico. that's gonna hurt." i was etherized, then woke up on the ward heaving black water onto white sheets. a man poking through his hospital gown leaned over me and
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sneed, "you thi yogot t tough? look at this!" and showed me the cauliflower tumor behind his ear. i heaved up black water again. the ice cream burned. vanilla was a snowball spiked with bits of glass. my throat was red as a tunnel on fire after the head-on collision of two gasoline trucks. this is how i learned to trust the poets and shepherds of east harlem. blessed be the truth-tellers, for they shall have all the ice cream they want. >> it just occurred to me as you were reading that i happen to know that you've been through the last couple, three years a very death-defying ordeal, illness. >> yeah, yes. >> you're better, i can tell, your color's come back, there's energy in your voice. i mean, you read these poems the way you did the first time.
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>> there's something about poetry that saves me. there's something about poetry that energizes me, that brings me tonoth pla. that fires all the hormones, i don't know what. something intangible, and yet tangible at the same time. there is something to poetry and activism which has the same energizing effect. >> does illness of that kind rob you of an identity that poetry gives you back? >> absolutely. catastrophic illness destroys not only the body but the spirit and the identity in particular. you no longer ow who you are. when the lights go out and you undergo that general anesthesia for whatever the surgery might happen to be, you wake up again, you are not the same person. but you don't know who you are. it's certainly, your name is on
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that i.d. badge, right, the bracelet that you're wearing and you're desperate to cut off. but you don't know. and it will take some time to figure it out. two schools of thought. one is "oh, you'll be the same guy you always were." and the other is, "you'll be somebody completely different." and i still don't know how that story's going to end. >> the book is "the trouble ball," the poet is martín espada. martín, thank you for being with me. >> thank you very much. >> in our last episode of that washington soap opera, "as e door revolves," we introduced you to former federal prosecutor mary jo white, who left government to become a hot shot wall street lawyer defending such big firms as jpmorgan.
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"the new york times" reports that she and her husband, who's also a corporate litigator, have a net worth of at least $16 million and investments that might be valued as high as $35 million. and now, courtesy of president obama, mary jo white's been named to head the s.e.c., the securities and exchange commission -- the very agency that regulates her clients and everyone else doing business in the stock market. but as they say on late night tv, wait, there's more. join us for our latest episode of "as the door revolves" in which the door spins ever faster between the s.e.c. and big business. according to a major new report from the nonpartisan watchdog pogo, the project on government oversight, hundreds of the agency's former employees have done or are doing business with the s.e.c. on behalf of the corporations the agency is supposed to regulate. imagine, hundreds with an intimate knowledge of how the
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place works advocating for their clients with friends at the s.e.c., colleagues who themselves may be looking for a big payoff when they, too, leave government. no wonder the s.e.c. has granted special waivers to business on some 350 occasions that according to the report, "softened the blow of enforcement actions." the plot thickens. pogo also reports that when obama's first s.e.c. chair, mary schapiro, pushed for reform of theoney markets business, it was opposed by the two republicans on the commission and one democrat, luis aguilar, who used to be an executive vice president with the money management firm invesco. he came out against schapiro's plan shortly after a meeting with invesco officials. coincidence? aguilar told pogo there's no connection. sure. when president george w. bush was in the white house and named chris cox to run the s.e., we
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screamedlike bloo muer because cox had been a partner at a huge global law firm whose client list included deutsche bank and goldman sachs. now obama's pushing his choices through the same revolving door. it's called "regulatory capture." the takeover of government agencies by the very corporations they're supposed to keep an eye on to protect everyone's investments and pensions against abuses of private power. what next? well, stay tuned. in the next few weeks, mary white will sit r he confirmation hearing before a committee stacked with politicians whose big donors include the financial industry. at our website, billmoyers.com, there's an interview with pogo's michael smallberg, who led the investigation. you can also read the complete report, find out how to forward it to your own members of congress, then open your window and scream. that's all at billmoyers.com. i'll see you there and i'll see
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that's all at billmoyers.com. i'll see you there and i'll see you here, next time. -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com don't wait a week to get more moyers. visit billmoyers.com for exclusive blogs, essays and video features. this episode of "moyers & company" is available on dvd for $19.95. to order, call 1-800-336-1917 or wre to the address on your scen >> announcer: funding is provided by -- carnegie corporation of new york, celebrating 100 years of philanthropy, and committed to doing real and permanent good in the world. the kohlberg foundation.
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